On Tuesday, the House of Representatives officially approved HR 7, or the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act.” The measure, which would dramatically restrict insurance coverage for abortion services, is essentially dead-on-arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate. President Obama has already announced his intention to veto the bill if it ever makes it to his desk.
Nonetheless, abortion opponents in the House were committed to fast-tracking the legislation in the very first weeks of the 2014 session. At last week’s March for Life, the annual anti-abortion protest on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told the crowd that he is committed to HR 7 even though it faces an uphill battle in the Senate. “The people’s House will stand for life. We will do everything in our power to make sure that our values and the sanctity of life are reflected in the law of the land,” Cantor said.
Cantor’s Democratic colleagues, meanwhile, have been critical of the House leadership’s dogged pursuit of abortion restrictions at the expense of other legislative priorities.
“Poll after poll shows that Americans want Congress to work on creating jobs, yet Republicans in Washington insist on wasting more time, energy, and taxpayer dollars on attacking women’s health,” Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the co-chair of the House’s Pro-Choice Caucus, said in a statement released before Tuesday’s vote.
“Those who are promoting this…know it will not become law. It’s a messaging bill,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI) said on the House floor on Tuesday afternoon. “While we’re debating that, the House is not taking up unemployment insurance extension, which is not a messaging bill — it’s heat in the home, it’s keeping the lights on, it’s paying the mortgage, it’s putting food on the table for the children of the people in those homes.”
Kildee proposed an amendment to HR 7 to address that issue, offering to replace the bill’s anti-choice provisions with an unemployment insurance extension for the 1.6 million Americans whose benefits have lapsed due to congressional inaction. Although 41 of his fellow Democratic representatives signed onto the measure, Republicans were unreceptive.
HR 7 underwent several last-minute changes before proceeding to a full House vote. Lawmakers removed a controversial provision that would have eliminated tax breaks for women who choose to have abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. That proposed policy sparked considerable outrage after reproductive rights advocates pointed out it ultimately would have required the IRS to conduct audits of rape victims.
However, reproductive rights advocates warn that the amended version of HR 7 certainly still represents a serious threat to women’s access to health care. The legislation would reach into the tax code to dissuade businesses from offering abortion coverage, ban the plans on Obamacare’s new marketplaces from covering abortion, and permanently prevent low-income DC women from using their Medicaid coverage for abortion services. That would ultimately force many women, particularly economically disadvantaged individuals, to pay out-of-pocket for the full cost of an abortion.
“The woman struggling to pay for an abortion is also the woman trying to find or maintain employment, avoid eviction, and pay her heating bill. When politicians deny abortion coverage and make it unaffordable, it can jeopardize a family’s financial security,” Jessica Arons, the president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, noted in a statement.
This isn’t the first time that the GOP-controlled House has passed a largely symbolic attack on abortion access. In June, the House approved a national abortion ban to outlaw the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.